Learning from Recounts

39 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2017 Last revised: 12 Apr 2017

See all articles by Stephen Ansolabehere

Stephen Ansolabehere

Harvard University - Department of Government

Barry C. Burden

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Kenneth Mayer

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: March 14, 2017

Abstract

We compare the results of two recent statewide recounts in Wisconsin — the 2011 Supreme Court election and the 2016 presidential election. We argue that recounts provide a valuable window into the accuracy of initial vote counts. Recount accuracy is best measured in terms of the absolute deviation between initial vote counts and recounted vote counts. We show that the accuracy of this assessment declines as the level of aggregation in comparing vote counts increases.

In the particular case of Wisconsin in 2011 and 2016, we find that:

(1) simply comparing the recounted victory margin with the election night victory margin significantly understates the degree to which counting errors occurred in the original vote count,

(2) aggregated reporting vote totals understate the number of errors made in the original count of ballots,

(3) recounts reveal far more errors in counting ballots of minor-party and write-in candidates than for major-party candidates, and

(4) ballots originally counted by computerized means appear to be at least as accurate as ballots originally counted by hand.

Keywords: voting machine, recount, electronic voting, optical scan

Suggested Citation

Ansolabehere, Stephen and Burden, Barry C. and Mayer, Kenneth and Stewart III, Charles, Learning from Recounts (March 14, 2017). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2017-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2933139 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2933139

Stephen Ansolabehere

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Barry C. Burden

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

Kenneth Mayer

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

Charles Stewart III (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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